Pleas begin on meth bust suspects |

Pleas begin on meth bust suspects

A federal prosecutor is negotiating plea agreements with 20 of the 23 people allegedly involved in a methamphetamine ring which operated between South Lake Tahoe and Santa Rosa, Calif.

Law enforcement agents busted the drug ring in May after an eight-month investigation that involved a wiretap. South Lake Tahoe El Dorado County Narcotics Enforcement Team, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and California Department of Justice all worked on the investigation.

Defendants in the case could be sentenced to life in prison and fined as much as $4 million each for possession and conspiracy to sell methamphetamine. However, according to Assistant U. S. Attorney Mary Grad, sentences are expected to be lighter for those with “a less substantial role in the conspiracy.”

Three men remain fugitives in the case: Alfredo Lpez-Garca, 21, who’s been seen in South Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas and Mexico City; Juan Aldana, a 24-year-old from Chicago; and Efran Villagmez, 27, who is believed to be in Mexico.

Methamphetamine is a stimulant that works on the brain and central nervous system by interfering with normal nerve functions. It’s made with over-the-counter drugs and household chemicals.

Investigators said during the sting their informants bought pounds of methamphetamine in South Shore.

“We are slowly negotiating plea agreements with each of them,” Grad said. “There was a wiretap in this case, so defense lawyers are reviewing extensive material from the wiretap. The sentencing depends on the quantity of drugs at issue.”

Written plea agreements are commonplace in federal cases, Grad said. If things go smoothly, she hopes to have the plea agreements completed in November and begin sentencing hearings by mid-January.

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